Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer: FAQ

Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer: FAQBreast Cancer Awareness Month brings extra pause to mothers who are pregnant and breastfeeding. As you share your body to nurture your baby, it’s hard not to think about the impact that breast cancer, or any other type of cancer, may have on you or your little one. Today we’re sharing FAQ about breastfeeding and breast cancer:

Does Breastfeeding Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer?

Yes! Studies show that breastfeeding does indeed lower a mother’s risk of breast cancer for the rest of her life. Breastfeeding for any amount of time reduces risk of breast cancer but breastfeeding for more than two years (lifetime total) more than doubled the risk reduction of breast cancer. Breastfeeding may be especially helpful at reducing risk of estrogen receptor negative, including triple negative, breast cancers.

How does Breastfeeding Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer?

No one knows for sure why breastfeeding reduces risk of breast cancer. Some experts believe it is because mothers who are pregnant and then breastfeed have less menstrual cycles in their lifetime and are therefore exposed to less estrogen, a hormone that contributes to breast cancer. Breastfeeding also changes breast cells and tissue which may make them less receptive to the spread of cancer. Additionally, women who breastfeed tend to make better lifestyle choices for the health of their own bodies and their babies, such as not smoking, not drinking excessive alcohol and eating a healthier diet.

Can you Breastfeed if You Have Breast Cancer?

You cannot transfer breast cancer through breast milk therefore it is completely fine to breastfeed if you have breast cancer. The taste of your breast milk and milk supply may change due to alterations in the breast tissue. That does not necessarily mean your baby will reject the breast, however.

Can you Breastfeed if You are Being Tested for Breast Cancer?

In most cases diagnostic tests for breast cancer, including a mammogram, MRI, X-ray, CAT scan, PET scan or CT scan, do not affect the safety or quantity of breast milk. Even local and general anesthesia is acceptable during breastfeeding. A biopsy may interfere with milk ducts or nerves that are essential to breastfeeding, but the procedure is not categorically unsafe during breastfeeding. Unless instructed by your physician, there is no need to wean for diagnostic testing. If weaning is recommended but you are not ready to stop breastfeeding, discuss other options with your doctor.

Can you Breastfeed if you are Being Treated for Breast Cancer?

Often treatment for breast cancer is not compatible with safe breastfeeding. This includes chemotherapy and radioactive isotopes.

Does Breastfeeding Reduce Risk of Other Types of Cancer?

Yes! Studies show that breastfeeding for at least the recommended six months reduces risk of both ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer (uterine cancer).

Sources: La Leche League, Mayo Clinic, Reuters, Fit Pregnancy and Susan G. Komen